Trigger Warning: This article is centered around eating disorders.
The week of February 22, 2021 is known as National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, or #NEDAweek. In the world, about 9% of people will suffer from an eating disorder throughout their life. In America, 13 million people struggle with binge eating; 10 million women struggle with anorexia or bulimia and approximately 1 million men suffer with anorexia or bulimia. While 1 in 5 women in America struggle with eating disorders, only 1 in 10 of those struggling seek out help. Additionally, eating disorders have the second highest mortality rate of any mental illness.
With this week being NEDA week, it is important to know the warning signs of an eating disorder. Some of the psychological and behavioral warning signs include skipping meals regularly, extreme mood swings, and withdrawal from daily activities or friends. In addition to behavioral and psychological warning signs, there are many physical symptoms of an eating disorder. Some of these include impaired immune function, inability to control body temperature, brittle hair or nails, and muscle weakness. The three most common eating disorders are anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder (BED), but it is important to note that some disordered eating patterns do not fall directly into one category or another. Some exist in a gray area, but they are just as valid.
Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder in which an individual limits or eliminates food intake because of a distorted body image. Those struggling with anorexia will often lose weight through starvation or excessive exercise. Anorexia is an incredibly dangerous disorder that often results in hospitalization. Bulimia is another life-threatening eating disorder characterized by binging and purging, or binging food and forcing yourself to vomit; purging can also manifest in excessive exercise or fasting. Binge eating disorder (BED) is a difficult eating disorder that manifests in eating large amounts of food and the feeling that one is unable to stop eating. While there is nothing wrong with eating a large meal occasionally, those with BED feel that they cannot control their eating. With 1 to 2 million people struggling with it, BED is the most common eating disorder in America. While eating disorders are bad on its own, many are accompanied by other mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation.
So how do you support a friend struggling with an eating disorder? One way you can help is by changing the compliments you pay them from comments about their appearance to non-look based compliments! Instead of “wow, you look so skinny,” try instead, “wow, you look so happy in this picture” or “you are such a great friend." While those words and actions may seem small, changing the narrative can greatly improve the mindset of your friend.
Eating disorders are scary and can feel as if they control someone's entire life, so it's important to remember that recovery is achievable. If you are concerned about yourself or a loved one, there are a slew of resources: ANAD provides an eating disorder hotline that is available 12 hours a day, 5 days a week at (888)-375-7767. The National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) has a number of resources as well. There are also resources here at Boston College: The Office of Health Promotion has a program called The Body Project, which is a “peer-led body acceptance program to help college women resist cultural pressures to conform to the appearance ideal.” Reach out for help, support one another, and as always, take care of yourself and your loved ones.